Indiana travels into the Lions den on Saturday night where more than 100,000 revenge-hungry fans are expected.
Last year IU took down No. 8 PSU when quarterback Michael Penix, Jr. dove for the pylon and into the national spotlight when his two-point conversion gave the Hoosiers a stunning 36-35 come-from-behind overtime win.
This year the task appears to be even greater.
The Hoosiers (2-2) and No. 4/6 Penn State (4-0) kick off at 7:30 p.m. Eastern at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. For more insight into the Lions we spoke with Daniel Gallen of Penn Live:
TDH: Give the overview of the (new OC) Mike Yurcich offensive philosophy based on what you have seen so far.
Gallen: It feels cliche at this point to call an offense “multiple,” but that’s exactly what Penn State has been through the first four games under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. There’s been a variety of packages and personnel groupings, and Yurcich has seemed to slowly unveil different pieces of his offense week-by-week.
The best example was the tight ends’ breakout performance against Auburn in Week 3 after a quiet start to the season. The trio had 130 yards receiving and a touchdown catch, and Yurcich wasn’t afraid to put all of them on the field at the same time, including lining up redshirt freshman Tyler Warren at quarterback at the goal line.
There’s plenty of variety in this offense, and Yurcich gives defenses plenty to think about. It wouldn’t be a surprise if we see something new from the Penn State offense Saturday night.
TDH: What is the story behind the No. 111 ranking in rushing yards?
Gallen: It’s a good question. The responsibility probably lies with both the running backs and the offensive line, and coach James Franklin said he wanted to see the line play with a little bit more of an “edge” in the running game.
But Penn State hasn’t really needed its running game yet this season. That could obviously change in the meat of the Big Ten schedule, but the short-passing game has sufficed, with playmakers like Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington making things happen with the ball in their hands.
There’s been times where the offensive line hasn’t seemed to get a push and other times where running backs might be missing holes. It’s just not on the same page right now.
TDH: What is new with Sean Clifford this year? He seems to be more efficient and improving each week.
Gallen: In terms of previously known quantities, quarterback Sean Clifford is probably Penn State’s most pleasant surprise of the year. His performance in 2019 showed that 2020 might have been an anomaly, so a bounceback year wouldn’t have been unexpected, but his performance so far under Yurcich has been a significant jump.
I think the biggest thing with Clifford is that he seems calm in the pocket and the moments where he gets flustered are few and far between. The decision-making has been solid, and since the first half at Wisconsin in the opener, there haven’t been many glaring errors. He’s calm and confident, and that can take a quarterback far.
TDH: The defense lost some key players, especially up front. How well are they pressuring the quarterback?
Gallen: Penn State lost plenty of key players along the defensive line — Odafe Oweh and Shaka Toney to the NFL; Antonio Shelton and Shane Simmons to transfer; Adisa Isaac to injury — but the Nittany Lions also added some key pieces through the transfer portal and from within.
Defensive end Arnold Ebiketie, the Temple transfer, has been a revelation. He’s constantly around the quarterback, and his emergence has been the biggest surprise on the defensive side of the ball. In the middle, defensive tackle Derrick Tangelo, the Duke transfer, has performed well to help defensive tackle PJ Mustipher get free to make some plays.
And then senior Jesse Luketa moved from linebacker to defensive end and has proved adept in both rushing the passer and stopping the run. In the Auburn game, Luketa and Ebiketie never sacked Bo Nix, but they were in the backfield enough to make him uncomfortable.
TDH: If the defense has a vulnerability, what has it been so far?
Gallen: I’m not necessarily sure there’s a clear vulnerability on the defense. The secondary is really, really talented, the linebackers have been solid and the defensive line — maybe the biggest question mark entering the season — has been able to get after the quarterback.
The “bend, don’t break” style lends itself to opposing offenses getting opportunities, but Penn State ranks No. 10 in red zone defense in the FBS, so even when offenses can move the ball, they can’t get into the end zone. There’s been no clear weak link yet.
TDH: If there is a hole in this Penn State team that will keep it from winning the Big Ten, what is it?
Gallen: There will be games in the Big Ten schedule where Penn State will need its running game to step up and seal a game with the four-minute offense or some other late-game situation. The margin for error has been tight so far this season, and improved performance from Noah Cain, Keyvone Lee and John Lovett could make things feel a little bit more comfortable.
Otherwise, I’m really curious to see if Clifford can remain at this high level or what he can do if he’s having an off day. He rebounded really well after halftime at Wisconsin, but there are plenty more tests remaining on this schedule, including against Indiana on Saturday.
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